Tag Archives: art

mother! – Review

11 Oct

When I was first getting heavily into film, one of my main inspirations was Darren Aronofsky. He went places with his movies that I never thought were possible. Requiem for a Dream has had an impact on me that not a lot of films have and that impact kept going when I saw his films PiThe FountainThe Wrestler, and Black Swan. I thought this guy could do no wrong. Then came Noah and I saw that maybe he isn’t perfect. Noah was a huge disappointment for me and I always thought it was a strange project for Aronofsky to take. When I saw his next film, mother!, was going to be a strange psychological horror trip down the rabbit how, I felt like it was a return to form and I was super excited. Well, I’ve seen the movie and I still can’t get a grip on what I saw. This is going to be a rough review to write because I still have no idea how I really feel. One moment I hate it, and the next I find something to truly respect. Call for help.

A woman known only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a secluded, dilapidated house with her husband who is only credited as Him (Javier Bardem). Him is a poet who is struggling with severe writer’s block while Mother works day in and day out trying to fix the house, which is actually Him’s old house which was destroyed in a fire. One day Man (Ed Harris) shows up at Him and Mother’s door, and Him allows Man to stay the night. The actions of Man upsets Mother and things only get worse when Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), shows up and Him also allows Woman to stay. As Mother is quietly tormented by both Man and Woman, more and more people begin inviting themselves into Mother’s house and invading her life to the point where her very existence is threatened by the endless mob of people.

This movie really is something else. mother! is one of the most polarizing movies of the year, and not just with me, but also with critics and audiences. The structure of the movie, itself, even feels like polar opposites of one another. The first hour of this film is outstanding. I was sucked into it and I was ready to defend this film against anything negative one said. The dynamic between Mother and Him was intense. The abuse that Mother was receiving was quiet and nonviolent but abuse all the same. That’s when I thought, “Oh, this movie’s about toxic relationships where the pain is never from anything physical.” I thought that was a really interesting thematic journey to be on and an idea that isn’t explored all that much. Lawrence, Bardem, Harris, and especially Pfeiffer were all at the top of their games in this half of the movie. When more people began entering the home, I also thought it was a wild idea to think of and then actually execute and execute well onscreen. So far, mother! was gutsy, well paced, original, and had a clever artistic balance. Then the movie slowed down, and that was fine. A slow down was necessary. But then, we get into the second half of the film, more specifically the third act…

It is at this point that both Darren Aronofsky and mother! goes off the rails. Without spoiling anything, more people show up to the house and the great idea Aronofsky had is spoiled by doing way too much with it. Not only that, but he shamelessly bashes the viewer over the head with his religious symbolism that completely destroyed what my theory of the movie was about. It’s a relentless mish mash of violence and allegories and pretension. I get it Darren. We all get it. Settle down. It’s also at this time where both Man and Woman are nowhere in sight, and they were only one of the most interesting part of the movie. The tracking camera work that worked so well in the first half just becomes nauseating as things start getting crazier and crazier. I wasn’t really affected by what I was looking at. I wasn’t feeling angry anymore or upset for Mother. I wasn’t even laughing at the insanity. I was just getting so confused and annoyed at how far things were going that I was getting bored. It was a very strange feeling.

So let’s weigh the good with the bad. The good is the first half of the movie that is filled with excellent performances, an idea I found very unique, and camera work that was very sure of itself. Like I said, I was sucked in for a while. The bad is pretty much everything else. The actual point of the entire movie is pretentious and completely destroyed what I thought about the film. The themes themselves are pretentious, but the obvious way Aronofsky uses them is just annoying. The idea that was great in the first half also goes way too far and is also ruined in the second half. It seems like it may be balanced, but when I  say I hated the second half I mean that I HATED it. I really can’t talk too much about what I didn’t like in the second half because it would spoil the film.

mother! is an anomaly of a movie. There are times where I admire it and there are times that it just bothers me. At this very point in time, I can still say I’m torn, but the film did anger me more than I wanted it to. I like when a movie can be angering for the emotional response that it needs. Detroit was angering, but that was the response that Bigelow wanted. mother! was angering just because of how annoying and pretentious the film got and how Aronofsky went way too far with his idea. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about this movie down the line or after repeat viewings, but this is how I feel right now.

Final Grade: C-

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La La Land – Review

11 Jan

There are movies that come around every now and again where it’s so clear that the film makers poured their entire hearts and souls into it. Sometimes, a film maker comes along where it seems like that’s all he’s capable of doing. A few years ago, Damien Chazelle gave the movie world Whiplash, a film about jazz drumming, passion, and pain. It was easily one of the best movies of 2014. Chazelle knocks it out of the park yet again with his latest film, which just so happens to be an original musical, La La Land. Like WhiplashLa La Land is a film about jazz and passions to succeed in what you love, but told in a much different way. By the time the movie ended, I almost could believe what I saw.

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Hollywood is filled with a dreamers and hidden potential, but there are some who truly make these dreams part of their lives. Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista in a small coffee shop in a movie studio who also spends her days rushing to different acting auditions, hoping beyond hope that one of the will be her big break. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who earns what little money he has playing in bars and restaurants, even when their theme or style isn’t the music he loves. His goal is to one day open a jazz club that truly is all about the music in its raw, organic form. The two also seem to keep running into each other as if by fate. While their both quite different, their passions for their respective dreams are very much the same and a relationship quickly forms. The ultimate test for them, however, is can it withstand what it takes for them to achieve their dreams.

There’s so much to talk about with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. I left the movie feeling so excited and my brain was just going a million miles a minute. I’ve had some days to think on it, and I’ve been enjoying the movie even more as I think about it. I guess a good place to start would be the music. I’m not a huge fan of musicals. There are some exceptions to that rule like Meet Me in St. Louis, The Producers, or Chicago, but I really can’t get too into them. La La Land takes everything I do like about musicals and utilizes them to the fullest potential. The film opens with a big musical number on a crowded freeway, which is filled with different colors, sweeping camera work, and energy that flies off the screen. Every musical number keeps up this level of energy and wonder but uses them in different ways. Two standout scenes are a song and dance number on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles and a slower number inside Griffith Observatory. There’s grand numbers like the big finale, but there’s also smaller and quieter musical themes that tie the movie together.

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Chazelle has shown in Whiplash that he is more than capable of writing characters that feel very original and exist perfectly in the movie they inhabit. When I went into La La Land I was excited to see the musical numbers, the colors, and a lot of the more technical aspects of the movie, but I didn’t really have expectations for the characters. I was pleasantly surprised with how well rounded and real these characters felt, especially since they existed in a musical. They never felt like archetypes or characters made solely to break into song and dance. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have fantastic chemistry, and it almost didn’t feel like I was watching them act a scene, but rather peeking into the lives of the characters. A lot of their realness can also be attributed to Chazelle’s writing and how he throws in a lot of quick comedy and natural dialogue.

Finally, we come to the film making. La La Land is one of, if not the best directed movie of the year. The way this movie is shot is a marvel to behold. From the opening shot to the very last, the movie has a beautiful widescreen quality and a color palette that will catch you attention immediately. The aspect ratio of La La Land is 2.55:1 which is known as CinemaScope. This makes the film look really big, and there are certain scenes in this movie where it really shows. Of course, it’s no surprise that this technique was used mostly in the mid-1950s into the 1960s. Chazelle also works great with cinematographer Linus Sandgren to use the camera and the lighting to the fullest. I go back to the opening musical number where the camera swoops all over the freeway in such grand ways. It caught me right away and held me until the very end.

Just thinking and writing about La La Land is getting me excited all over again. This is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year and it’s a reminder of why I love them so much to begin with. This film is a love letter to film and the passion and love of the arts while also standing as it’s own established movie. It’s filled with excellent music, natural performances, and so much magic that I’m starting to think Damien Chazelle must be from some other dimension. La La Land is absolutely phenomenal.

Final Grade: A+

The Lobster – Review

21 Jun

Let’s go back to September of 2014 when I reviewed one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. I remember feeling like I just saw a genuine work of art and also one of the most frustrating movies ever. That frustration came from the film’s desire to make the movie make the audience think for themselves’ and interpret the story in a way that would make them feel fulfilled. Now, here we are in 2016 and Lanthimos has brought us another puzzle of a movie with The Lobster. This is a two hour long movie with a thin plot and an overabundance of symbolism and themes and motifs that would keep anyone busy for a good long while. What’s also important is the use of pure and unfiltered imagination that comes along with it.

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In the not too distant future, more stock is put into relationships than ever before. In fact, it’s illegal not to be paired with someone and the punishment is absolutely absurd. This is the situation David (Colin Farrell) faces when his wife leaves him and he is forced to go to the Hotel. This is a place where all of the single people go where they have 45 days to find a partner, and if they fail to do so, they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing and be released into the Forest. As time passes for David, he finds his situation to be hopeless and escapes into the Forest where he meets the Loners, a group of single people hunted by the people at the Hotel. One of these Loners is a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) that immediately is taken with David, and the two begin an affair that is forbidden amongst the Loners and that can be met with another punishment most severe.

First and foremost, I have to bring the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos to attention. Between what I witnessed in Dogtooth and now The Lobster, it’s clear to me that this guy has a lot going on inside his head and isn’t afraid to put his outlandish thoughts into action. This film at times felt like I was reading some odd, classic science fiction story written by someone who admired Kafka with an overwhelming passion. This is a really strange movie, but Lanthimos also made the future he created somewhat believable. At first everything seemed completely absurd, but as the rules of this world were iterated and reiterated, I started to give myself up to these guidelines and went along with everything that was being said. Considering the absurdist nature of The Lobster, it’s impressive that I got on board with things so quickly.

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It’s almost an impossible task to put this movie into any sort of genre, and part of that is because there are so many components to consider. The whole idea of changing people into animals using some kind of medical procedure is textbook science fiction. What’s interesting is that they decided to leave how it happens out of the story and instead just leave it a mystery. The important thing is that it happens, not how it happens. There’s also a pretty touching, if not slightly twisted, love story at the center of the movie. Just because the movie is completely outlandish doesn’t mean that there isn’t strong, touching moments of romance. What The Lobster really is for me, though, is a darkly funny satire. It takes modern society’s need for acceptance and love and looks at the worst qualities of it. The Hotel is like Tinder from hell. I also got a huge kick out of the hollow way people talked to each other, almost like they were reading from a script of socially acceptable things to say. That just adds to the sharp satire.

I do have to point out that while The Lobster is extremely creative and full of pitch black humor, it can sometimes feel like a chore to watch. I felt the same way with Dogtooth, so it must be the deliberate slow pace that Lanthimos uses in his movies. I won’t say that I was ever bored watching this movie, but it did tire me out. The plot moves at a snail’s pace over the two hour running time, which made it feel even longer than it actually was. The first half of the movie is significantly more entertaining than the second half, but the second half introduces a lot of new themes and ways of looking at the situation. While I wasn’t having as much fun in the second hour, there was a lot of new things to think about which kept everything interesting.

The Lobster is certainly one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and after anticipating it for so long I had very high expectations for it. It certainly did not disappoint in any department. It was funny, kind of sad, intelligent, and also full of imagination and originality. That being said, this movie is certainly not for everyone and if someone told me that they hated it, I would understand. It’s definitely something different, but it asks a lot of good questions and succeeds at immersing the viewer into a dystopian world of absurdity.

Thirst – Review

12 Jan

Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies. South Korea is actually may favorite market for foreign film because of the amount of beautifully shot films that come out of there. Today we’re going to be looking at a movie made by Park Chan-wook who is prominently known for his cult classic Oldboy, but also for dabbling in the American market with Stoker. I’ve always found the majority of his movies to be beautiful but awfully pretentious. The same can be said for his 2009 film Thirst, although it is far more enjoyable than others like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who feels that his life should be dedicated more to than just prayer. To make himself feel more fulfilled both with his life and faith, Sang-hyun decides to volunteer to become a test subject to find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, which has been wiping people out all over the globe. While he does in fact die during the test, he is resurrected when a blood transfusion is performed, but with some unexplainable side effects. Sang-hyun is now cursed with vampirism and survives day to day by stealing blood from hospitals. Life after death becomes even more complicated when he is reunited with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a childhood acquaintance who insists on becoming a vampire.

This is just such a cool idea for a movie. When done properly, vampire movies can contain some of the coolest and most memorable scenes and characters. Interview With a Vampire is my go to vampire movie, but then there’s the comedic What We Do in the Shadows that also works great as a vampire movie. In Thirst, the biggest draw that separates it from the rest is the fact that a Catholic priest is turned into a vampire. This is an interesting plot point since Catholics believe so strongly in going to either heaven or hell after they die, and this priest is now stuck in this undead state and is forced to drink blood to survive. Another interesting thing is that Park wrote vampirism to be some weird biological side effect to the disease that Sang-hyun volunteered to help find a cure for. It puts an interesting and worldly twist on something that is normally considered supernatural.

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With his other films, Park Chan-wook has shown himself to be highly skilled at creating a visually beautiful movie. While his movies do look beautiful, I’ve always felt that they’ve lacked in terms of telling a story. In both these regards, Thirst is no different. There’s a lot of great looking scenes in this movie that deserve a lot of attention, but Park doesn’t really explore the narrative possibilities to their full potential. There’s a vampire priest that’s engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a woman who feels the need to become a vampire. That should open a lot of doors to utilize different vampire lore or character development, but that doesn’t really happen to the degree it should. With that in mind, there are also a lot of scenes where nothing really happens and just serve to drag the movie out a little bit intead of a scene that could include something that would boost the movie up.

Thirst is an example of a really good movie that gets weighed down by the pretentiousness of the film maker. Park Chan-wook obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, but he’s conveying these ideas in broken sentences. It’s pretty clear that Park’s main goal was to make a beautiful piece of art, but the art of a movie isn’t just how it looks or sounds. To me, one of the most important pieces to a film is the story. Narrative should never be discounted as not important to making a cinematic work of art, even if it’s something more abstract or experimental. That’s just my personal taste anyway.

I don’t want this review to sound negative because I actually did enjoy Thirst and appreciate the work that Park Chan-wook put into it. It’s actually one of his best movies after Oldboy. I just wish more attention would have been put into the lore of the vampire and more detail added to create a flowing story. I actually highly recommend this film to people who love a good vampire movie, but just don’t expect a completely fulfilling movie.

The Element of Crime – Review

15 May

Well, here we are again. I really can’t seem to stay away from the works of film making extraordinaire and 100% grade-A nutcase, Lars von Trier. This time, like I previously did with Steven Soderbergh and sex, lies, and videotape, I’m going to be looking at von Trier’s first effort at a feature film. While having done some short films before this, this is the one that introduced his odd style and uncomfortable atmosphere that would be present in most of his movies. So, let’s take a trip back to 1984 with The Element of Crime.

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While in Cairo, Detective Fisher (Michael Elphick) goes to see a psychiatrist due to completely losing the memory of his last case. While there, he undergoes hypnosis, which unlocks the part of his mind that is hiding the information he desires. This memory is of a dystopian Europe, where poverty, anarchy, and violence rule the streets. After visiting his mentor, Osborne (Esmond Knight) and discussing his book on solving crime, he is called to investigate a murder perpetrated by the “Lotto Murderer.” In order to solve the case, Fisher employs the method that Osborne wrote in his book “The Element of Crime,” and that is to get into the head of the murderer until you finally understand them. As Fisher delves deeper into the case, he soon finds himself losing touch with himself and finding more in common with the murderer.

Like many of von Trier’s movies, The Element of Crime is very big on style. The only problem is that it lacks in just about every other department. The entire film is tinted yellow or orange, which gives it a very distinct look. What makes it even cooler is that there will be splashes of blue thrown in, whether it’s the static on the tv or the lights hanging overhead. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a movie that looks like this one, and that’s still a pretty high complement when movies tend to look like other movies. The dystopian Europe is shown through such a horrific lens, that it will be hard to forget moments of this movie and its overall style. Still, that isn’t enough to make a movie great.

 

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I challenge anyone who’s watching this movie for the first time to tell me what’s really going on. If you can, than you’re a better person than I’ll ever be. There’s nothing wrong with a movie whose goal is to confuse the audience, but there should always be some sort of payoff. The Element of Crime simply makes no sense. I get that it’s about a police detective that’s getting too deep into the mind of a killer, but that’s about all I really get. The acting is all fine and a lot of the dialogue is actually very smart, but it doesn’t really amount to anything much since I had no idea what was happening.

The Element of Crime is the first part of a thematic trilogy about dystopian Europe. The other two films are Epidemic and Europa, which I have previously reviewed. I haven’t seen Epidemic, but The Element of Crime is really nothing when standing up against Europa. Still, you have to give credit where credits due, and this debut film was important in showing what Lars von Trier was capable of creating, if even just giving a glimpse of it. It put him on the spotlight and since then, his style and skill have only been improving.

As far as debut films go, The Element of Crime certainly isn’t the best, and the reason why it’s included in the Criterion Collection sort of remains to be seen. Perhaps it’s just the fact that it’s the first feature film for von Trier, and they can’t really seem to stay away from him. In my opinion, this is a pretty shallow effort that looks gorgeous on the surface, but there’s not really anything backing it up. This is only a film to see if you’re a huge fan of Lars von Trier’s work, but even then I guarantee that you’re going to be disappointed.

The Seventh Seal – Review

30 Mar

To any film lover, the name Ingmar Bergman is one to really perk up the ears. If I hear anyone having conversation about him, I automatically want to jump in, but that would be weird. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen too often. Anyway, he;s known mostly for a large amount of dramatic works and one really fantastic horror film, Hour of the Wolf. One of his most famous and respected works is a film from 1957, The Seventh Seal. In this movie, Bergman tackles some really heavy subject matter and wraps it all up in some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography you’ll ever see. The honor of being a “classic” was invented for movies like this.

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Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning home after the Crusades with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block is having problems with his faith after fighting tirelessly and then returning home to find the country ravaged by the Black Plague, while Jöns is comfortable with being a nihilistic agnostic. While on a beach, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block, but to stall Death’s intentions Block challenges death to a game of chess. While the game continues, Block and Jöns keep traveling home when they run into a family of performers. The performers and the two Crusaders move through the countryside contemplating life, death, and religion as the horror that surrounds them begins to engulf everything they believe in.

Sometimes looking at movies like this can be a weird experience. A lot of the times, they aren’t really entertaining movies, but more so movies to just be appreciated for their artistic value. The crazy thing about The Seventh Seal is that through all of it’s artistic qualities and moral preaching, it’s a damn entertaining movie. The whole idea of playing chess with Death is cool enough, but using the Crusades and the Black Plague as a time to set it in makes it all the more cool. But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate this film as a piece of art. In fact, when this movie was released it pretty much defined modern arthouse cinema.

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One of the main draws of this movie is how beautiful everything looks. The atmosphere is completely haunting and the black and white cinematography really is a must to make this story work. Bergman got a lot of inspiration for this movie by looking at paintings of Death and other works from this time period, so a lot of this movie does actually look like a moving, black and white painting. To top off the beautiful aesthetics is a score that will chill you right to the bone. Discordant melodies that seem to be seeping through the cracks of hell flood the dying landscape like the plague, itself. It’s memorable and something I’d love to put on my iPod if I could find the music anywhere.

Another problem that normally bogs these art house movies to the ground can be there length. If an artsy fartsy movie goes on too long, then the entire impact of what could’ve been great gets obliterated. Luckily, The Seventh Seal wastes no time with unnecessary scenes, and cuts right to the chase with Death starting his chess match with Block. From there, the story keeps progressing at a steady pace, leaving me no time to get bored with it at all. I was honestly expecting to be just a little bored, but I was too busy enjoying myself the whole way through.

I’m quite surprised with The Seventh Seal. I knew that it was going to be beautiful and aesthetically excellent, but I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did with it. The setting is cool and eerie, the music is chilling, and the religious and moral questioning is interesting to listen to and think about. Many people say that this is one of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces, as it has been praised, parodied, and honored since it was first seen in 1957. I’d have to agree with them. This film pleases in every regard and can certainly be regarded as an international classic.

 

The City of Lost Children – Review

25 Nov

Every so often a movie comes around that goes way, way, way over the top with just about everything, and in The City of Lost Children it almost is enough to make you tired. Directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet completely blast your audio and visual senses. Anyone familiar with Jeunet’s other works like Delicatessen and Amélie may not be too surprised by this. This film is a milestone in terms of imagination and art direction, but it unfortunately lacks a little in the story department and all of the gizmos and what-have-yous often became distracting.

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The children of an unnamed port city all seem to disappearing one by one and all too quickly. No one knows why this is happening, but if they were to look out into the ocean they would find a rig where a mad scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) has all of the children held captive. Krank’s plan is to use a device to extract the dreams of the children since he is unable to have any of his own. Meanwhile, a carnival strongman, One (Ron Perlman), sees his little brother get kidnapped to be taken to the rig. He soon joins forces with a little girl named Miette (Judith Vittet), an orphan who is also a member of a thieves’ guild. The two begin investigating the kidnappings which will ultimately lead to a showdown with the mad scientist, himself.

The plot of this movie is so stuffed, I feel like I’m leaving so much story information out. This is a two hour movie, but it could have easily gone on for four since there seemed to be just so much going. There’s a group of clones (all played by Dominique Pinon) who have a crazy backstory, conjoined twins that run the thieves’ guild, a tick with murderous powers of motivation, and a talking brain in a fish tank with speakers! WHERE CAN I EVEN BEGIN?! Like I said before, the imagination that went into making The City of Lost Children is mind blowing, but there’s so much there that the story sort of suffers.

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Every corner, every inch, every possible place for negative space in every scene is filled with some sort of gadget or device or weird looking person that there were times where I didn’t even know where to look. There is so much going, and I say that in one of the most extreme ways I could possibly say it. About half way through the movie, I started feeling like I was confused or missing something, but it turns out I was right on on pretty much all accounts. There’s just so many odd characters with different stories and contraptions that it all kind of detracted from the main story about a mad scientist kidnapping children to extract their dreams, which is cool enough. You don’t really need more than that, but this movie literally seems to have everything in it. This isn’t always a negative though.

As it stands, this movie is all about the style and art design which is beyond impressive. Being made in 1995, the film makers relied strongly on actual sets and practical special effects and make up. Much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, I would put The City of Lost Children on the movies that go above and beyond what is expected of special effects of the time. It all looks so amazing, and seems like it could possibly exist in some demented alternate reality. That’s really what watching this movie feels like. A step into a world that’s almost ours, but at the same time is completely different. It’s a modern day fairy tale.

You could compare this movie to the works of film makers like Guillermo del Toro, Terry Gilliam, or even David Lynch. Still, it has the names and style of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all over it. This is a really impressive film that is like nothing I’ve really seen before in terms of style, but as someone who loves a good story I was a little disappointed with the narrative. Don’t look at The City of Lost Children only as a story, but as a huge artistic achievement. With that in mind, this is a movie that is sure to make you gasp, laugh, and maybe even cringe.